Immigration Reform 2013: Obama, Senate Plans Both Questionable

Last week, USA Today released details about the White House’s so-called "back-up plan" should Congress fail to pass a comprehensive immigration bill. The proposed bill is suspiciously similar to the one being pushed forward by the Gang of Eight, but it does solidify an actual plan towards a path to citizenship for the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants.

But that’s where the good news ends. Ultimately, both plans will add more wasteful government spending and bureaucracy without addressing the actual problem of future flows of immigrants. And here’s three reasons why:

1. Beefing up the border is a waste:

Both the White House and Congress state that spending more on border security and increasing enforcement of immigration regulations are key to solving our immigration problem. However, we’ve doubled our border security since 2004,and now have over seven times as many border patrol agents than we did in the 1980s, adding nine times as many to the southern border.

Don’t get me wrong, border agents do deter illegal immigrants, especially in metropolitan centers. However, there is a diminishing return to adding more and more sentinels to patrol our vast borders.

We cannot hope to make an impenetrable fence with any reasonable budget a free society would dedicate to the task. We’ve already sunk $1 billion into a "virtual fence" (one that’s virtually defunct and non-existent).  Adding aerial drones and other gadgets to the list of toys would just add more to government’s spending problem.

2. The E-verify system hurts citizens:

Already enacted in several states, E-verify is an electronic status verification system designed to stop the employment of unauthorized workers. It’s a popular idea among those who want to increase immigration enforcement and penalize businesses that hire undocumented workers.

However, what those supporters don’t tell you is that about 1% of legal American workers are falsely labeled as illegal and unable to get a job. These unemployed workers, some of the worst hit by the recession, now have to go through a costly bureaucratic nightmare to legally return to the workforce.

3. Both plans doom us to repeat this fight again:

Just as President Reagan did with the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, policy makers are setting America up to fail and pass our undocumented worker problem onto the next generation. Without an overhaul of our guest-worker program, we are just incentivizing immigrant workers and businesses to circumvent the system.

Current guest worker visas for agricultural workers are so overregulated that they are barely used. Loosening up regulations would make the visas more usable and incentivize American farmers and employers to hire authorized workers.

Unfortunately, our decision makers up on the Hill are trying to instill faith in stricter immigration enforcement as the end-all, be-all solution. But faith in immigration enforcement is similar to faith in other big-government programs. Advocates of both quickly admit failures but call for ever more tax dollars and government power to correct them. In the end, what we’re left with is a government that excels at being more intrusive, expensive, and larger ... but falls short on actually solving our problems.

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Roger Pattison

Roger Pattison is currently pursuing a Master's degree in economics from George Mason University and working in non-profit fundraising for a liberty-advancing organization. I write on topics related to science, trade, immigration, emergent order, and informal institutions. All opinions written are my own and do not represent the views of my employer or George Mason University.

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